Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Thursday, November 11, 2010

things comickal

-- things comickal -- recently read: the one and only birds of prey edition

So, hey, three weeks of comics to get through. Better get to it, then. But first, a song! (Well, most of one.)

And NOW we can really get to it. As always, possibly slightly spoilerrific, so use your best judgement.

Wonder Woman #604:

You know ... I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, Straczynski ... isn't a good match for continuing series with DC characters. On the one hand, people (including me, the few issues I read) pretty much absolutely adored his The Brave and the Bold run, where all of the issues were one and done. On the other hand, the reviews I've seen for his run on Superman have been wildly mixed -- and there's already a fill-in issue because "Grounded" seems to be slipping a bit in the schedule. And then there's Wonder Woman, which ... honestly, he seems to be writing half-issues. Half of the issue seems like terribly unnecessary filler, and the other half is dynamic action that moves the story forward. And you could chop out the filler -- which, granted, this issue includes things like the origin of this particular villain, but it could have been much condensed, given that only one tiny bit of it actually matters. There's also the small fact that this is the guy who killed almost all of the Amazons and Diana disposes of him all by herself ... sort of. Oh, sure, maybe we'll discover that the particular trick pulled by another character is something he's capable of, and maybe he'll be back later ... but given that something resembling the previous status quo or a fusion of these two histories has to be the end game of this volume of WW, probably not. And if Diana is powerful enough to deal with him on her own, surely all of the Amazons, even though they were under attack by a large group of people, could have handled him. (Especially since Diana kind of ... doesn't. And no, I can't explain that without spoiling the one truly neat bit of the whole thing, even if it does make you want to say, "Now how in hell could THAT happen?")

Any road, the core of this issue is about Diana vs the villain who killed all the Amazons. There's also a bit about the lasso and rediscovering one of her abilities. There's also something to do with her mother which I will not reveal because, honestly, that particular device is kind of fantastic. But, again, almost all of that is the back half of the issue. The back half is Excellent; the first half is Meh. I suppose that all combines to an overall Good, though it kind of shouldn't.

Something of a side note: without that 80s styled jacket, the new costume is actually kind of ... bitchin', actually. I mean, yes, it would be nice to have a spangle or two starred here or there -- judging from the illustration below, they're apparently on the shoulders of that hideous jacket, but that's quite literally the only time I've seen them there -- but otherwise, it's a very effective redesign. Hopefully, she won't find that jacket again any time soon.

And another interesting note: turns out that Straczynski is no longer the principal writer for WW or Superman. Both titles had issues with delays and fill-ins as his schedule filled up with other things. He's being replaced on WW by Phil Hester. (Ought to be interesting. I have no real experience of Hester as a writer for corporate owned characters; I only know of him writing his own stuff for Image. And his stuff for Image -- principally The Athiest and its successor Antoine Sharpe -- were ... plagued by delays. To the point that the final issue of The Athiest simply never appeared; it was just incorporated into the trade of the series. And "Antoine Sharpe" vanished into the ether after its second issue, never to be seen or referenced again. That said, his most recent series, "Golly", didn't have too many delays, and the last issue actually came out, so there's that. I'm assuming and hoping that he's better with corporate titles than with his own; after all, a creator-owned title does give you the luxury of being able to do stupid things with the deadlines, and the only person you're really hurting is yourself.

JLA/The 99 JLA/The 99 1 of 6 (Stuart Moore, Fabian Nicieza/ Tom Derenick, Drew Geraci, Allen Passalaqua; DC/Teshkeel)

This story gets hamstrung out of the gate, and never recovers.

First, neither Teshkeel nor DC laid the groundwork for this issue properly. The 99 has had a miserable time getting distribution in this country -- I remember seeing and reading the first three or four issues, and then it disappeared, never to be seen again. For this story to succeed, you need background. DC should have helped Teshkeel print and distribute a trade of the first volume or two so that people would have gotten a grip on who these characters were, what their background is -- why they should care about or notice this team-up, in other words. And this matters very much near the end; it's clear that part of what happens with one character comes out of The 99 continuity, and it gets sorta kinda very briefly described ... but to the extent that it gets described, it undermines the story. (More about that in a bit.)

Second, it's set, to the extent that it matters, against DC continuity. Current DC continuity ... except not really. This means that we're dealing with the classic JLA, with the DC trinity: Batman/Bruce Wayne, Wonder Woman and Superman, along with the other usual suspects. Wonder Woman is shown in the costume she's got over in her own title (sadly, she seems to have located the jacket). The problem with THAT is first, the current JLA shouldn't know that this Diana even exists; she's been wiped from their memories, and she certainly wouldn't be doing something as high-profile as appearing at the UN with the JLA. (It's reasonably clear that DC must have a mandate that if you're going to use Diana in your title, it's going to be the current version, no matter how problematic that may be. Otherwise, they'd have let Teshkeel use the older version, which would be a better fit for the story anyway.) Second, if it's the current JLA, Superman is off going walkabout across the country and shouldn't be involved in anything the JLA is doing at this point. All pure continuity wonk stuff, I freely admit -- but only DC continuity wonks and Teshkeel fans are going to pick up this thing, and it's not improbable that a Teshkeel fan might look at that version of Wonder Woman and not have any idea who she is.

Anyway, the story itself: basically, a villain has done something to turn the world against superheroes. All nonpowered people are suddenly seized with a powerful and irrational hatred of superheroes, to the point where they'll cause near-riots to try to drive them away or attack them. At the same time, someone -- possibly that selfsame villain -- is causing various natural disasters to occur. Then we run across a former member of the 99, a teenager in a wheel chair. He's been affected by whatever it is that turns the world against superheroes. (A digression: each of the 99's powers were granted by something called a Noor stone, and the powers can apparently be invoked at will.) And whatever it is, it make his Noor-stone induced powers go insane ... except that, judging from the other members of the 99, simply having the Noor stone should immunize him against whatever the villain is doing. And even if it didn't initially, using the Noor stone certainly seems to protect against it, and the virus or whatever causes him to use his stone, which should block the effects of the virus which ... and so on.

No recommendation; I may or may not come back to this when/if DC puts it into a trade to see if it hangs together better than this difficult start would otherwise imply.

Zatanna 6 (Paul Dini/Jesus Saiz; DC): In which Benny Raymond's attempt to force Zatanna to marry him, so that she can be sacrificed to the demon instead of him, goes catastrophically awry, as we all knew it would. And Zatanna gets some help from her cousin Zack which enables her to turn the tables on Raymond. This is, I must say, a fun title to read. Dini is doing a good job of showing the vulnerabilities of what is potentially one of the most powerful characters in the DCU, and showing how she can overcome those vulnerabilities. (Let's face it: Zatanna and Dr Fate should pretty much never ever lose, as long as they're not taken by surprise. Magic users in the DCU are obnoxiously powerful.) Even with that sort of preordained ending -- Zatanna is simply not going to lose to the likes of Raymond -- Dini manages to make a story that you enjoy reading. It's not if she's going to beat the bad guy, it's how. There's even just enough of a recap of sorts that if this was the only issue of the arc you picked up, you could follow and enjoy the story. Saiz's art and John Kalisz's colors are a beautiful match for the story.
Very Good; highly recommended.

Life with Archie Life with Archie: The Married Life 4 (Kupperberg/Breyfogle/Pepoy; Archie Comics):

In the "Life with Betty" story, Mr Lodge's plan to make Archie and Betty's life miserable looks to be going slightly awry. He gets Betty fired by financing the loans that save Sacks from bankruptcy, but she winds up landing on her feet (for the moment), and helping Archie land on his. He gets Archie's friend Ambrose and his new club/bistro investigated by all -- and I do mean all -- of the relevant licensing authorities in NYC, in such a way that it not only gets the club shut down before it opens, but it also rouses the curiosity of a friend of theirs ... who, judging from his clothes and earpiece, is something like an FBI agent, so this will clearly not go well for Mr Lodge.

In the meantime, back in "Life with Veronica", Veronica and Reggie continue to innocently act in ways that lead people to think they're having an affair. Archie continues to try to investigate what Mr Lodge is doing behind their back, but Lodge is just barely one step ahead. (Interesting side note: this is the ringtone on Archie's cell phone.) Jughead and Midge are entering a marriage of convenience, ostensibly to get a small business stimulus loan -- apparently the application process favors couples over singles -- only to discover that they actually care for each other.

Reggie Mantle, obnoxious relatively well-off teenager of the past, is now pretty solidly something of a failure in both stories; he's certainly been humbled and become ... kind of a nice person, actually. In the "Life with Veronica" section, he's genuinely trying to help her and Archie, much to his own surprise at himself. In the "Life with Betty" section, his own father thinks he's become a gigolo/kept boy for the seriously depressed Veronica. This being Not That Kind Of Story, those words are never mentioned, and Archie's alleged audience would be utterly clueless as to what he's talking about.

I continue to be impressed at how dark the writers are willing to allow this story to get -- within limits, of course; this is still Archie, after all. I've seen the solicits for future issues -- some of which unfortunately give away key points -- and I do know that this continues at least through issue 7. I do wonder how far this is slated to go. And will we see whatever happened to Kevin Keller? Granted, he's a brand new character, but still...
Excellent, Highly recommended.

Invincible 75 Invincible 75 (Kirkman/Ottley; Image): "The Viltrumite War". An extra long issue in which the bulk of the actual war itself takes place. And it is Awesome. Major full page and two-page spreads throughout the issue showing what's happening. Sophisticated strategy and utter mayhem, side by side. Costly losses for characters we actually care about. A final ploy to end the war that is truly shocking ... up to a point. The alleged good guys, the allies, do something which would be ethically appalling under different circumstances. Still is kind of appalling, in fact. (And given the circumstances which obtain, I'm not at all sure what they expected it to accomplish other than getting the Viltrumites angry, and at that it succeeds magnificently.) Rathbun and Ottley draw the hell out of the issue, and FCO Plascencia colors the hell out of it. (Blood. Lots and lots of blood. In outer space. Grim. But colorful!) Even if you haven't read the issues leading up to it, you can mostly understand what's happening with this issue by itself, which is quite the feat, if you think about it. This is not true of the Science Dog backup, which is also loads of fun, and gets itself wound up into all sorts of wibbly wobbly timey wimey goofiness.
Excellent; Highly recommended

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: (DC)
- Oracle (Marc Andreyko/Agustin Padillo)
Bruce Wayne The Road Home- Ra's Al-Ghul (Fabian Nicieza/Scott McDaniel)

After the reaching the heights with the "Commissioner Gordon" issue, "The Road Home" fell back to earth with these. You'd have thought the Oracle issue would be about, say, Barbara kicking ass in her own distinctive way, much as her father did in his issue, and Bruce either watching or helping out. But no: this is mostly about how Bruce inspired Barbara to recover after "The Killing Joke." She apparently just laid there like a lump as though her life was over until Bruce gave her a kick in the behind. And, yes, OK, people almost giving up after catastrophic life events until someone shakes some sense into them is a storytelling trope for a reason. But then it turns out that she made herself into Oracle to make Bruce proud of her. Not even her father, but Bruce. Not for herself, but for Bruce. So, hey, way to rob Barbara of any agency in restarting her own life, you know? Yes, she did all of that herself, but she didn't do any of it for herself. Which doesn't match the Barbara Gordon we've seen over the past few years.

The Ra's story is even more of a mess. Basically, he's trying -- sort of -- to kill Vicki Vale because she doesn't deserve to know Batman's secret identity. Not because she does, but because she is not a worthy vessel to carry that secret. (We'll ignore the fact that pretty much anyone who cares to seems to know, shall we? Let's shall.) Ra's is also worried because, between simply living a very long time and the odd moment of Lazarus Pool induced insanity, he's beginning to lose some of the details of his past. Apparently, if you live forever, you can still worry about getting old. Who knew? The end of the story is pretty much profoundly unsatisfactory on every level -- suffice to say that we discover why Vicki's been doing all this, and the reasons are insultingly inadequate; Ra's decides to let her live, and Bruce ... well. Doesn't do much of anything, really. But now he's home, and he knows that everyone except the Outsiders pretty much actually did better without him, and isn't that what was important about all this? Yes?

No recommendation, because they're parts 5 and 6 of something that was allegedly a series of independent one-shots that turned out to be no such thing. Also, five of the six issues were, frankly, not particularly good.

Batman and Robin 16 Batman and Robin 16 (Grant Morrison/Fraser Irving/Cameron Stuart; DC)

In which Morrison takes his leave of this series, Bruce is shown to be home, the Joker deals with Dr Hurt in an impressive yet jawdropping way, and Alfred gets the line of the issue when he says, "Can that please be the very last time I have to grieve needlessly?" (But you know and I know and he knows that it won't be. Though, assuming that Batman Beyond is in continuity, Bruce does manage to outlive Alfred. And who'd have laid bets on that? But I digress.) A close second for line of the issue would be Professor Pyg saying, under circumstances which are not quite what he thinks they are, "I made you to love me but remember! I'm not wearing protection, my darlings!" (Yes, what you're thinking is EXACTLY what he means. No, that really really wasn't the sort of protection he needed at that particular point in time.)

Oh, and Dick spends almost the entire issue running around with a bullet in his brain. That is, in fact, something of a weak point in the story; how do you do brain surgery on a guy wearing a cowl? And yet apparently, the "world's foremost brain surgeon" does exactly that. Either that, or there's someone out there who is not Leslie who knows Dick's secret identity.

Three different artists handle this issue. Part of it is to show the difference between what happens in the past and the present. I'm not sure why you need to show stylistic differences between inside Wayne Manor and the Batcave in the present and the outside world (barely outside, in one case), which is what the other two artists do, for the most part. It may be as simple as the fact that these are the artists, along with Frank Quitely, who handled many of the issues of this title, so Morrison wanted to work with them on the title one last time. Assuming that they're listed in order, Cameron Stuart handles the bulk of the issue, the front end, in which we get the actual origin story of Dr Hurt, at last. Chris Burnham and Fraser Irving work around each other in the second half, with Irving doing the parts with Professor Pyg and the Joker, and Burnham handling the parts inside stately Wayne Manor and the Batcave, as well as one panel dealing with Commissioner Gordon that was utterly and profoundly unneccessary. Apart from the Gordon panel by Burnham, I also kind of hated Irving's art at the end, especially the frame showing Bruce standing with (I think) Dick, Tim and Damian, with Alfred off to the side. Irving made them all look very much alike and very much like Dr Hurt -- no doubt on purpose -- but the effect, especially with all the golden coloring on the background was just ... weird.

And at the end, Bruce announces that he's been financing Batman all along. (Which, in fact, would answer an issue that I've idly wondered about from time to time: how does Wayne Associates hide the really quite substantial amount spent on Batstuff in their accounts? Apparently failed research and development would only account for just so much, after all.) And he launches the brand new day of Batman, Inc.

Very good, if also very very weird; Recommended

Welcome to Tranquility, "One foot in the grave" #5 of 6 (Gail Simone, Horacio Domingues; DC/Wildstorm)

Man, I love this title.

In this issue, Thomasina goes to save her sister, and we discover that her sister has a future after death. (It's very very clear that death is rarely the end of anything in Tranquility.) The mayor and his wife go to deal with their son, and the mayor takes some unilateral action. And then there's a concert. We also begin to learn about the history of events between Thomasina and Derek, and why he seems to be targeting her and hers.

I will admit, I'm not at all objective about this title when it's working, as it is in this miniseries. I love Thomasina as a character; despite being one of the few people in Tranquility without super powers or super devices, she manages to be essentially the most kickass person in town. Domingues' art matches Simone's writing perfectly. Interestingly, there are fewer of the ads and comics from the past this time, probably in part because we have genuine flashbacks embedded into the story this time.

Excellent; Highly recommended. I hope that this series survives somehow now that DC's killed the Wildstorm universe.An occasional miniseries or graphic novel would be just about perfect.

Birds of Prey 6, "Heart of Pain, Life of War: Part 2 of 2: Two Nights in Bangkok" (Gail Simone/Alvin Lee, Adriana Melo, Jack Purcell, JP Mayer, Nei Ruffino; DC)
Well, that was ... abrupt. The part of the story that takes place in Bangkok gets wrapped up with a vengeance. Of course, they still have to come back to Gotham, and Canary's blown secret identity, and a city that thinks the Birds did something very very wrong. And, most annoyingly, in the last issue, Barbara said that there was some way she could deal with Savant and Creote knowing the location of the Batcave. Did she do it? What was it? No idea. Not even mentioned, although both Creote and Savant appear in this story. It does seem that she's changed locations -- there are a bunch of moving boxes and peanuts and whatnot around -- but that doesn't address the whole "knowing about the Batcave under stately Wayne Manor when you shouldn't because it's not her secret to give out" issue, does it? I'm hoping this will be addressed in a future issue.
No recommendation

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 6 of 6 (Grant Morrison/Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Alejandro Sicat; DC)

Hey, Bruce is back! And yes, this is last in the list of recent Bat stuff because that's the order in which it got published. And, you know, he's his usual awesome self.

The issue itself is a weird mix of really interesting concepts and really strange execution. The construction of the story and of Darkseid's trap is very very clever. It depends on Bruce's preternatural detective ability; if he doesnt figure out what's going on, the trap doesn't trigger, precisely. Parts of it do -- it's amazing how easily Darkseid's technology defeats the members of the Justice League in very specific ways (although it's completely unclear what it does to Donna Troy). Until he runs into Tim, who refuses to fight him. That sets off a battle, of sorts, between Bruce and Darkseid. In his head. Mostly.

And it all connects really beautifully ... to all the stuff that was supposed to come after this issue, but that got published in the month before it. It does clearly show the shift in how Bruce thinks that makes Batman Inc. possible. You can see how this title would have worked really well, coming entirely before the last two issues of Morrison's Batman and Robin run, as planned originally. Alas, for scheduling slips.

No recommendation, given how spectacularly late it was and how compromised by other titles

And, as a reward for making it through to the end of this, something completely different:

From the recent "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" episode, "The Mask of Matches Malone!" (did not make a lick of sense but was a lot of fun), and ... that is a very very naughty song. Featuring Catwoman as a Bird. And wearing a costume that, except for a couple of appearances in Kevin Smith's Widening Gyre miniseries, hasn't been seen in years -- possibly decades. After all, she had the catsuit back in the 60s.

Until next time...

Posted by iain at 08:27 AM in category things comickal